Ulcerative colitis is a type of inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) that causes inflammation and sores in the lining of the rectum and large intestine (colon). It's a chronic condition, although symptoms can disappear for months at a time only to flare up again. It typically first appears in men or women between the ages of 15 and 40, but occasionally this condition first occurs in people in their 60s.
Researchers believe ulcerative colitis happens when the immune system overreacts in defending the body against a virus, bacteria, or dietary or environmental substance in the intestinal wall. It's still not clear what the exact trigger might be, but it's thought to vary from person to person.
Ulcerative colitis is an autoimmune disease that tends to occur in people with a family history of the condition. It is related to other autoimmune conditions, in which the immune system mistakenly attacks the body's own tissues instead of only fighting infections. Ulcerative colitis occurs most commonly in Caucasians, and particularly in people of Jewish heritage.
Certain environmental triggers can also lead to colitis. For example, people who live in cities are more at risk of developing the disease than those in rural areas.
Bloody diarrhea is the main symptom of ulcerative colitis, caused by the inflammation in the bowel. People with colitis can have anywhere from 3 to 20 bowel movements daily, even losing control of their bowels and having diarrhea during sleep, in severe cases.
Other signs and symptoms of ulcerative colitis include:
Some people with colitis develop arthritis, skin rashes, or inflammation of the eye, and about 4% get liver disease. In children, ulcerative colitis can lead to limited growth. There are also acute complications like bleeding and potentially severe inflammation of the intestinal wall (toxic megacolon).
People with ulcerative colitis are also at increased risk of developing colorectal cancer. The risk of colorectal cancer increases over time, but regular examination by your doctor can help to reduce the risk.